In times of little hope, solace will invariably be found in the memories of better days from the past. NUFC fans of a certain vintage can at least turn to these recollections to seek brief intervals of joy during this utterly joyless period in the club’s history. But where does, say, a 20-year-old United fan turn to for respite from the drudgery of life as a mag in 2021? Presuming they began supporting the club between the ages of six and ten, they are likely to be able to recall a pair of Championship trophy winning seasons, three top ten Premier league finishes (including a 5th place finish) and a solitary season in Europe. Of course, there’s been memorable games and moments as you’d expect over a period of 14 years, such as a first league win at Old Trafford in over four decades. But these moments of joy have been fleeting during an otherwise soul-destroying 14 years.

The reason I gave the example of a 20-year-old fan is because that is the age I was when Ashley bought us in 2007. A 20-year-old-fan in 2021 has only ever known this version of Newcastle United. Using the same 14-year timescale, by the time I was 20 I’d witnessed eight top ten Premier League finishes (including five top six placings and two runners up positions), eleven seasons in Europe, two FA cup finals, two FA Cup semi-final defeats and a European semi-final exit. The club may well have fallen short in bringing silverware back to Tyneside, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying.

I’d seen my club come within a whisker of our first top-flight title since 1927, progress regularly to the latter stages of cup competitions and play in European a frequent basis. The past 14 years have been desperate but unlike younger United fans, at least I’ve had an insight into what this club is capable of with a modicum of ambition. This owner has let every one of us of a black and white persuasion down over the past decade and a half, but I almost feel greater sympathy for those that have known no different. A young United fan’s highlight reel will probably include a couple of wins against Sunderland, the aforementioned victory at Old Trafford and the 4-4 against Arsenal. In contrast, supporters around my age would likely include, just for starters, Man Utd 5-0, Barcelona 3-2, two FA Cup semi-final wins and a first goal at Wembley in 24 years, courtesy of a Rob Lee header.

As we know, Lee’s goal came in defeat, a third consecutive loss at Wembley in three years. I’d made the trip on each occasion with my father, we’d been at the semis in ‘98 and ‘99 too. The defeats might have hurt but when you consider I’d walked up Wembley Way four times (Charity Shield as welliIn ‘96) by the time I was 13, that’s not bad going. The games at Old Trafford in the semis are among my favourite times as an NUFC fan. For the match against Spurs, our seats were right beneath the top tier which was literally bouncing throughout but especially during extra time when Shearer struck twice. The noise was deafening, it was magical, that’s what being a football fan is all about. These were fairly average United sides too, sandwiched between KK’s entertainers and Robson’s talented team of the early noughties. But there was always hope.

Today, United’s young followers have become accustomed to watching average sides but without the comfort of hope. Have they had it worse in comparison to older generations of NUFC fans? Supporters longer in the tooth than I will certainly argue that they have witnessed poorer sides and more desperate seasons, and for good reason too. Until Keegan’s arrival as a player in 1982, United had been a bang average 2nd division side for four years following relegation in ‘78. Before his return as manager in ‘92 the situation was even more dire as we looked destined to drop into the 3rdtier for the first time in our history. A 20-year-old supporter today has witnessed only two seasons out of the top-flight, and they both have resulted in a swift return as Champions. So, what’s the problem then? Well, 14 years is a long time to support a club bereft of ambition and hope and listening to fans that were around during the dark days of the early 80’s and 90’s, there was always a belief among our support that things would change for the better, and they did.

The narrative set by the club has hardly helped to inspire this young generation of supporters either. With very little communication from those in positions of power at the top, managers have been tasked with making clear the crushing absence of ambition in media briefings, and most have obliged all too willingly through acts of self-preservation. When one of the exceptions, Rafa, repeatedly challenged the club’s way of thinking in public, many of us knew his days were numbered. The current manager now considers Leeds and Villa (both promoted to the Premier League since NUFC) as part of an elite set of clubs we are trailing behind, inspiring stuff! In contrast, a glass ceiling at United didn’t exist in my early years as a supporter with Keegan even banning the word consolidation upon entry to the Premier League in ’93, believing it was wrong to set such low standards for his players.

I was fortunate that within five months of my first trip to St James’ in September ’91, there was a huge change of direction at the club which set us on an incredible journey, culminating in NUFC almost winning the Premier league title. Although we never reached those heights again, there remained a feeling that we were still striving to fulfil our potential in the ensuing years, particularly under Sir Bobby Robson when Champions League football returned to SJP. Nowadays, I almost feel a sense of guilt when I consider the contrast between my early years as a supporter and what today’s youthful followers have had to put up with.

Clubs will naturally go through good times and bad and some might argue that the last 14 years has simply been part and parcel of life as a football fan. I’d accept that argument if all our problems hadn’t been entirely self-inflicted. The Owner has created this version of Newcastle United, not via bad decisions and ineptitude (although there’s been plenty of that) but simply through not trying, and younger followers have witnessed nothing else. I suppose, with youth on their side, they’ve got a better chance than the rest of us of seeing an ambitious, forward-thinking United at some point in the future (also giving them time to expand on their much-maligned songbook!).Until then, it’s all a bit pointless really, so please do take me home.

ANDREW DODDS